ASK, SEEK, KNOCK

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. [Matthew 7:7 (NIV)]

camphorweedAsk, seek, and knock—three easy instructions. Ask. Ask as if we mean it, as if we truly care about the answer. Ask as if we believe we’re being heard. Ask with the hunger of a beggar begging bread. Ask with the fervor of someone sinking in quicksand pleading for help. Ask with the thirst of a dying man in the desert requesting water. Ask as if our very lives depend on the answer. Ask.

Seek. Seek as if we were searching for something of value—not a cursory look as if we’d lost a button or dropped a paper clip. Seek as we would for a lost wedding ring, wallet or child. Search as we would for an exit from a burning building. Seek by adding efforts to our prayers; after all, we can’t ask God for a harvest without first planting the seeds. Seek as if we care, as if our very lives depended on finding it. Seek.

Knock. Knock as if we truly wanted to enter. Knock with confidence—not shyly as if we don’t know whose door we’re at or timidly as if we’re not sure we’re welcome. Knock and keep knocking as if we desperately need the door to be answered, as if our very lives depended on it. Knock.

We have a promise—God’s promise—and we must ask, seek, and knock as if we believe that promise! Where there is a praying heart, He promises we’ll find a listening God—a God who loves us as a father loves a child. Like a good parent, however, no matter how fervently we ask, how diligently we seek nor how hard we knock, He won’t give us stones or snakes or anything bad for us. While there will be no money for drugs when we need rehab, no Ferrari when a bicycle will do, and no escape from facing consequences, there will be mercy, peace, grace, patience, wisdom, strength against sin, and understanding. He won’t sell, loan or rent His gifts nor will He take them back from us. Trust His promise to generously give good things to those who ask, seek, and knock.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! [Matthew 7:8-11 (NIV)]

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COUNTING THE COST

If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. [Luke 14:26-28a (NLT)]

coreopsisHis cautionary words to the disciples are difficult to understand. How can Jesus, who told us to love our enemies and do good to them, tell us to hate our families? Do we have to despise our relatives if we want to be his disciples? Fortunately, after getting the disciples’ attention with that unusual statement, Jesus followed with a parable about a man who undertook a project without counting the cost and then couldn’t finish what he began. Hating our family is just a hyperbole; it’s a way of saying that anyone who follows Christ must love Him more than anything else. Christ is to be first and foremost in our hearts and minds. In comparison to our love for Jesus, we are to love them less (or “hate” them). To be His disciple, Jesus demands total commitment; we must be willing to give up everything for Him, even if that means the things and people we love. Sadly, when we choose Christ over loved ones, they might perceive our love of Jesus as a betrayal and may even hate us for that choice.

I was raised in a family of believers and married a believer so I never had to choose between Jesus and family. For a moment, however, consider the disciples and their families. When they left their jobs to follow Jesus, did they leave behind loved ones? Did their families disown them or distance themselves from what seemed fanaticism or membership in a strange cult? What about the Apostle Paul? Originally known as Saul of Tarsus, he came from a family of Pharisees and spent many years studying Scripture under the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel. If not already a member of the Sanhedrin, he was well on his way to becoming a member of the high council and was an active leader in persecuting the followers of Christ. Saul was probably everything a devout Jewish family would want in a good Jewish son until he became a Christian evangelist named Paul! Think of what it cost him to follow Jesus.

While some of us gave up a few bad habits or unsavory friends when we accepted Christ, Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi gave up far more. When this Pakistani-American gave up his Muslim faith, he gave up his loving family as well. His becoming Christian caused a devastating destruction of their relationship and it took nearly ten years for the healing to begin. I cannot begin to comprehend the difficulty of his choice to follow Christ and the pain experienced by both parents and son. When I read Qureshi’s story, I finally understood what Jesus meant when He said to count the cost before we give up our lives and pick up that cross.

How could I betray my family after all they had done for me? By becoming a Christian, not only would I lose all connection with the Muslim community around me, my family would lose their honor as well. My decision would not only destroy me, it would also destroy my family, the ones who loved me most and sacrificed so much for me. I began mourning the impact of the decision I knew I had to make.… “But Jesus,” I said, “accepting you would be like dying. I will have to give up everything.”… For Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die. [Nabeel Qureshi]

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. [Luke 9:23-24 (NLT)]

Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. [Mark 10:28-30 (NLT)]

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WHAT’S YOUR GOLIATH?

Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come—when you’ll no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to try to remember him when the sun and light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among your clouds. For there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, your strong legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work, and there will be blindness too. [Ecclesiastes 12:1-3 (TLB)

“What’s the Goliath in your life?” was the subject line in an email advertisement for a new book. That question made me wonder what opposing force I face today that appears to have overwhelming odds in its favor. Of what am I afraid?

I realized my Goliath doesn’t look imposing, strong and powerful. Nowhere near nine feet tall, my Goliath has osteoporosis and is stooped, frail and weak. Rather than carrying a sword, my Goliath uses a walker and, instead of an armor bearer carrying a shield, this fearsome enemy has a caregiver who carries his glasses and cuts his meat. My Goliath doesn’t have a vast army behind him; he has outlived both his spouse and contemporaries and has trouble recognizing anyone else. My Goliath is old age.

When our Florida pastor asked who wanted to live to be 100, neither my husband nor I raised our hands. We’ve seen 100 (his mother is approaching 101) and it isn’t appealing; in fact, it is daunting. If we could physically and mentally remain as we are today, we would have raised our hands instantly. Unfortunately, we know that no matter how well we care for ourselves, our bodies and minds will be thirty years older and deteriorating the way milk does near its expiration date.

Someone asked if I was afraid of death and I quickly answered, “No!” Death is going home to God and will be wonderful. Dying, however, is another story; it can be a slow and painful process and that scares me. Granted, I can lob a few stones at Goliath in the way of healthy habits, but there is no way, short of death, that I can delay his arrival. Ecclesiastes 12 paints a vivid but grim picture of old age with its physical infirmities and loss of faculties.

Several hours after the Goliath question appeared in my email, a different question showed up in my inbox: “How firm is your foundation?” That question gave me pause. If my foundation is firm, nothing can defeat me! I had been thinking of old age as my Goliath instead of my David. David was small and weak, as I am fast becoming, and yet he overpowered Goliath. I can’t vanquish the indignities and decline of the oncoming years and I certainly can’t evade my body’s final defeat, but God will give me the power to rout that defeatist attitude. I’ll do that by having a firm foundation and doing as the writer of Ecclesiastes advises: fear God and obey His commandments. [12:13] My Goliath isn’t old age; it is fear of old age! With a firm foundation in God, I can trust His promises. Knowing He will never abandon me, I can face my enemy with confidence and defeat it as did David with Goliath. As long as God gives me breath, He will continue to calm my fears and give me both purpose and the power to achieve it.

 If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old. [James A. Garfield]

I have created you and cared for you since you were born. I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Savior. [Isaiah 46:3b-4 (TLB)]

But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him! [Psalm 92:12-15 (TLB)]

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IF SOMEONE ASKS

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. [1 Peter 3:15b (NLT)]

Yesterday, I echoed Paul’s words that, when witnessing, we need to speak our words with love. Of course, before that can happen we need to speak and, therein lies our problem. To speak, we need words and most of us are sure we don’t have them. Granted, the way we conduct ourselves is a continuous sermon but, if we never speak, no one will know what makes us the way we are. Actions may speak louder than words but that doesn’t mean words aren’t necessary.

We don’t have to go knocking on doors, stand on street corners with a sign, accost strangers, or go on a mission trip; we just have to be open to the opportunities that arise nearly every day to share our love of God. Peter instructed us to be ready to explain the reason for our hope; I think we’re asked that question more than we realize. There’s a good chance people have commented on your joy, peace, or calmness. In all likelihood someone may have said something like, “How do you do it?” or, “You don’t seem to worry,” or even, “I wish I had your life!” In reality, that person is asking about the source of your hope. Rarely have my answers to such comments revealed the true source of that hope, strength, peace and joy. I’ve chosen the innocuous reply rather than the true one simply because I didn’t think I had the right words to explain! When Jesus told us to go out into the world and be His witnesses, He promised we wouldn’t have to do it alone. Since the Holy Spirit will empower us to be His messengers, let’s allow Him to do His work! We can’t speak with love until we speak!

God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them. [George Whitefield]

But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! [Luke 21:13-15 (NLT)]

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ON THE TRAIL

You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. [Psalm 139:5 (NLT)]

Lake louiseOur recent trip to the Canadian Rockies reminded me of a hiking trip I took there with my daughter more than twenty years ago. With two guides for our group, one acted as lead and tied orange ribbons along the trail to mark the way. Knowing that we are to leave nothing in the forest but footprints, a second guide (the sweep) followed the last hiker and removed the trail markers. That morning’s hike was a trek up to a mountainside teahouse and my daughter and I (both fast walkers) wanted to have time at the top to explore. Confident we couldn’t get lost, we shot ahead of the guide, promising to meet at the teahouse. Apparently, there was a fork in the trail we missed in our haste; we veered left when we should have stayed right. After a while, it occurred to us that we seemed to be going down when the trail should be going up. Nevertheless, expecting an uphill just around the next turn and unwilling to admit we may have erred, we continued down. When we arrived at the same lake from which we’d started, we saw the error of our ways, turned around, and made the hike back uphill. By the time we reached the main trail, the trail markers placed by the lead guide had already been removed by the sweep. Knowing we needed to go further uphill, we continued our trek and eventually rejoined our group at the teahouse. In our case, the first really were the last and we barely had enough time to eat lunch before starting back down the mountain.

“You go before me and follow me,” David said about God in Psalm 139. Had my daughter and I allowed the lead to set the pace, the same could have been said about our hiking guides. Sure that we knew the way, however, we charged ahead, lost our way, and went down instead of up. Sarah charged ahead of God by giving Hagar to Abraham, Saul charged ahead by making a sacrifice without waiting for Samuel, and the prodigal son charged ahead when he demanded his inheritance before his father’s death. As so often happens when people take matters into their own hands rather than waiting for God, they discovered that things can go downhill quickly and often with tragic consequences.

Fortunately, God is in front of us—leading us, marking the way, lighting the path ahead, and smoothing the trail. He also is behind us—lifting us when we stumble, strengthening us when we weaken, encouraging, correcting and protecting us. Like our hiking guides, however, He will allow us to barge ahead and make mistakes along the trail. Fortunately, along with allowing us the freedom to turn the wrong direction, God allows us to make U-turns! Unlike our hiking guides, however, we can never leave Him in the dust nor will He ever leave us behind Him. Moreover, He won’t remove the signs that show us the right path. He is right there, both in front and behind us, leading and sweeping, like the extraordinary guide that He is.

Then I will lead the blind along a way they never knew; I will guide them along paths they have not known. I will make the darkness become light for them, and the rough ground smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not leave my people. [Isaiah 42:16 (NCV)]

If you go the wrong way—to the right or to the left—you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the right way. You should go this way.” [Isaiah 30:21 (NCV)]

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EQUIPPED

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” God answered, “I will be with you. [Exodus 3:11-12a (NLT)]

pale purple cone flowerNot all of us have the benefit of eighty years’ experience as did Moses when God called on him. Take David, for example, he was just a young shepherd boy when called on to become both warrior and king. Peter and John were fishermen; nothing in their backgrounds prepared them for their roles as Apostles and founders of a church. Mary was just a girl, in the town of Nazareth, engaged to be married to a local carpenter. What preparation did she have to become the mother of God? Gideon was a farmer, hiding from the Midianites in a wine press while threshing wheat, when God called to him. In fact, Gideon protested that, as the most insignificant member of the weakest clan, he couldn’t be the one to rescue Israel.

When God called to Moses from that burning bush, Moses didn’t see his eighty years’ experience as an asset. Instead, like Gideon, he focused only on his inadequacies. Understandably, the man raised in Pharaoh’s court wondered how the elders of Israel would believe he had been chosen to free their people let alone how an exile could convince Pharaoh to let the people of Israel leave his country. God, however, provided Moses with the additional tools and skills necessary to do the job. He was given three signs to demonstrate God’s power to the Israelites and was enabled to perform miracles before Pharaoh. When Moses pointed out that he wasn’t eloquent, God promised to give him the necessary words and then provided him with Aaron to serve as his mouthpiece. God empowered His servant and provided all that was necessary to achieve His task.

While God probably won’t get our attention with a burning bush, I think He regularly calls to us with tasks. There’s a good chance we’ll be like Gideon and Moses and see only our inadequacies and, like those men, we will be inadequate on our own. God, however, doesn’t ask us to do His work by ourselves. He told Gideon, “I will be with you!” and He will be with us. As God did with Moses, He will shore up our weak spots and provide us with the resources and skills we need to accomplish His will. God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the ones He calls!

May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:21 (NLT)]

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. [Joshua 1:9 (NLT)]

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